Special Education, Evaluations,
Untrained teachers, and Accountability
THE TEACHER SHORTAGE
The poverty problem
As with most other results of the corporate “reform” movement in education, the most damage is done to students, teachers, and schools in areas that can least afford it: low-income areas and special education.
Linda Darling-Hammond and researchers from the Learning Policy Institute report on research detailing the effects of the current teacher shortage, and how it damages the education of low-income students in particular. The shortage is advanced by anti-teacher and anti-public education legislation and a bipartisan, public campaign against teachers that is ubiquitous. There no longer needs to be any discussion about which state is “the worst” for public education – Indiana, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan – it’s everywhere.
Our research on teacher shortages and the turnover that contributes to them emphasizes how much these conditions vary across teaching fields, types of schools, and locations. We document how they are much more problematic in some regions, states, and districts than others; more widespread in particular subjects; and most pronounced in schools that serve students of color and those from low-income families.
…Research shows that high teacher turnover rates in schools negatively impact student achievement for all the students in a school, not just those in a new teacher’s classroom. These rates are highest in schools serving low-income students and students of color. [emphasis added]
Caring for ‘the least of these’
Indiana’s particular brand of “reform” has resulted in an education funding shortfall. Budget cuts would, of course, hurt the students most, who need the most help. The shortage of special education teachers, who are the strongest advocates for their students, makes this especially troubling.
Advocating for students in special ed will become more and more difficult. We can expect to have to fight for these services for special education children who need them, even though the IDOE memo states: “Please remember that funding is not a topic for case conference committee discussion. No decisions about services should be based on whether DOE is able to help schools with funding.”
Illinois “reformers” wonder how there can be so many highly-rated teachers when there are so many “failing” schools?
The editorial board of the Chicago Tribune is still unhappy with the way teachers in Illinois are evaluated because the current system still has too many teachers rated in the top two tiers of the ranking categories.
We had the same problem here in Indiana a few years ago.
Given that one in four Hoosier children are not passing the state ISTEP assessment, how is it that 97 percent of those teachers who were rated have been classified in the top two categories of effectiveness? Today’s data simply does not correlate with the student results we’re seeing in the classroom.
The data does, indeed, correlate, because student test scores are not a valid measure of teacher effectiveness. The “failing schools” narrative is more complicated than “reformers” will admit. Schools can’t be judged by test scores alone and the quality of teachers isn’t the only variable that has an impact on student achievement.
“Reformers,” however, are interested in damaging the teaching profession in order to lower salaries and increase profits. Blaming teachers is good for the privatization business.
Once the profession is damaged, and fewer young people seek a career in education, the lowering of standards (and consequent increase in profits) can continue. Florida, for example…
Damaging the profession
Florida is “solving” the problem by opening up alternative paths, because the way to get better teachers and fill teaching jobs is by making it possible to slap any warm body into a classroom. My favorite bar-lowering idea― Florida Atlantic University will give Palm Beach Schools a list of students who flunked out of medical and science programs so that those students can be recruited to teach. And meanwhile the remaining dedicated, qualified teachers of Florida wonder how much longer they can hold on.
The Michigan legislators and governor are a match for Indiana, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and the rest of the nation by showing how easy it is to cause a teacher shortage.
Snyder seems to show few actual emotions of any kind. But his fellow Republicans in the legislature are vindictive and nasty. They seem to hate teachers, even more than they hate most in the public sector, and especially hate teachers’ unions.
Five years ago, they passed a law preventing local districts from paying more than a certain percentage of health care coverage for their teachers.
Republican lawmakers also rammed through right-to-work in a lame duck session at the end of 2012, gloating as they did it that this was bound to weaken the MEA and other unions who traditionally give money to try and defeat them.
If that weren’t enough, they also promptly passed a law that would make it so public school districts are no longer required to deduct union dues from teachers’ paychecks, as had been common practice for decades.
Nor were they done humiliating educators:
New teachers traditionally started at a low salary, then advanced year by year on a negotiated schedule till they reached something like a middle-class life style. But the benevolent legislators also pulled the rug out from under teachers in that way too, passing another law in 2012 that allowed school districts to not move teachers up on the salary schedule.
“As a result, we have teachers across the state in many districts who haven’t seen a raise in five years,” the MEA’s Crim says. Couple that with inflation and the rising cost of benefits, and it’s no wonder that a lot of students have had second thoughts about going into the profession.
How do you think the state of Michigan will deal with the lack of teacher? Again, like Indiana and Wisconsin…
Others have suggested we just drop the requirement for a teaching certificate and let retired professionals take a crack at the classroom.
That might make some sense at the university level, though being able to do a job doesn’t automatically mean you can teach others the subject matter. But it doesn’t work at high school and especially for elementary school.
Who will accept responsibility?
Accountability measures for public school achievement are universally aimed at teachers, students, and school systems. Sometimes parents are part of the mix, but rarely are one of the most important stakeholders in public school achievement included in accountability legislation and provisions.
Those unaccountable stakeholders? They are the legislators and policy makers who control the funding for education and the out of school conditions in which children live.
John Kuhn, superintendent of Mineral Wells ISD in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, wrote this letter several years ago. Nothing has changed. 100% of the blame for low achievement is still being heaped on teachers and schools. Legislators and policy makers are still doing their best to damage the teaching profession and avoid their own responsibility.
It’s time to revive this post…
The age of accountability should be renamed the age of blame, when teachers wear the scarlet letter for the failings of a nation. We send teachers into pockets of poverty that our leaders can’t or won’t eradicate, and when those teachers fail to work miracles among devastated children, we stamp ‘unacceptable’ on their foreheads.
I ask you, where is the label for the lawmaker whose policies fail to clean up the poorest neighborhoods? Why do we not demand that our leaders make “Adequate Yearly Progress”? We have data about poverty, health care, crime, and drug abuse in every legislative district. We know that those factors directly impact our ability to teach kids. Why have we not established annual targets for our legislators to meet? Why do they not join us beneath these vinyl banners that read “exemplary” in the suburbs and “unacceptable” in the slums?
Let us label lawmakers like we label teachers, and we can eliminate 100 percent of poverty, crime, drug abuse, and preventable illness by 2014! It is easy for elected officials to tell teachers to “Race to the top” when no one has a stopwatch on them! Lace up your sneakers, Senators! Come race with us!